A New Tagline for Your Life

I owe John an apology.

For years I have thought that he was a bit boastful. I thought he was letting us in on a secret that the others may have wanted him to keep to himself.

And because I heard him wrong I’ve thought wrong. About myself.

John says outright that he is the one Jesus loved. When he was gathered with the other disciples with Jesus in the Upper Room he says, “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved…”

John is always one of the three: Peter, James . . . John.

At the end of his gospel Jesus is with the disciples again, after his resurrection, on the beach. Jesus gives Peter the task of feeding his sheep and tells him that when he is older “You will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” “Stretching out his hands” was a way of saying he would be crucified.

As you might imagine this caused Peter some concern. He saw John and asked what would happen to him. Here’s the way John wrote this scene down:

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

John seemed to bring up the fact that Jesus loved him even in tough moments, like when Peter was being told he would die by crucifixion. Peter may have been hoping for some company. I don’t know. But what I do know is I might have been a lot like Peter, wondering why Jesus seemed to love John more.

I’ve had a belief that Jesus loves me. I just have had a hard time believing I’d be the “one whom Jesus loved” if the Gospels were being written today. Oh, I’d be in the Twelve or maybe the crowd. But probably not the one who would be leaning up against him.

And so I’ve always been glad to be around Jesus. Near him. But never quite sure he loves me like that. Yeah, I know, pastors aren’t supposed to say things like that. But it’s true.

Until today. Today I was reading John. And today I heard John. You see, I don’t think John is saying he was closer to Jesus than Peter or Andrew or James. I think John is just saying this is his identity. He is the one whom Jesus loved.

The problem wasn’t John. The problem was me. Part of following Jesus is believing he loves us. It is gaining a new identity. Jesus was clear that in his Kingdom everything turns upside down. The last are first. The foolish are wise. And there is no pecking order.

John’s identity is my identity. And it’s yours. “The one whom Jesus loves.”

Question: What is your identity?

Start Small to Find Big Results

Small things can make a big difference.

So many people I talk to seem stuck. They can’t get moving. It may be they want to lose weight, start exercising, learn a new skill, or read a book. But ask them a few weeks later if they have done anything about it and … you guessed it…nothing has happened.

Maybe you’ve been there yourself. I have. And then I remembered some teachings Jesus gave. He liked to talk about how small things—like a mustard seed—can grow into something big. He was talking about his Kingdom but the principle works in other places too.

A few years ago a number of pastors in our community wanted to find something that was a “need” in our community and see if we could work together to meet the need. Nothing seemed to happen mainly because we tried to get a large number of people on board and we couldn’t find the “need.”

Movement finally happened when just four of us—a small number—decided to do something. The need we discovered was this: our schools needed help surfacing mentors for kids. One elementary school had over 100 “at risk” kids and only 4 mentors.

We decided to start small. One step at a time. We got training curriculum secured. The school district gave their blessing to it. Training sessions were planned and advertised. And the first year we trained about 60 people to help with kids.

We started small. And now over 100 have been trained.

Jesus also said that the person who is faithful with little will be given more. And I think that’s the problem most people have. They want to make big changes but they haven’t been faithful with little ones. And the little ones—added together—can eventually become big.

BJ Fogg is a professor at Stanford University. He studies behavior. And he has helped thousands of people make behavioral changes through what he calls “tiny habits.” You can sign up for one of his online courses here. He says behavior needs three things:

  • Motivation. You have to have some level of desire for the behavior.
  • Ability. The behavior can’t be too hard to do or you will never try.
  • Trigger. Something that reminds you to do it.

He decided that the trigger was the most important of the three. He says that if you add the new behavior to an existing behavior you’ll eventually develop the new behavior. You let the existing behavior become the trigger.

It would work like this. Let’s say you want to learn to play the guitar. You have some motivation to learn. Right now you may not have skill yet but you believe you have the ability to learn. All you need is a trigger.

So you decide the best time to learn is after dinner. You already have a habit of putting the dishes away. You do that behavior every night. So you make that your trigger. Now, after putting away the dishes, you sit down and work on one chord for maybe 5 minutes.

It’s small. It’s tiny. But eventually it will become a habit.

What behavior do you want that you don’t currently have? Instead of making a big goal that will defeat you try making a small one you can accomplish. Find a mustard seed and let it grow.

Question: What behavior would you like to change or add to your day?


Ask this Question and Kick Fear to the Curb

You were born to be loved. Problem is you don’t have to live long before you feel the sting of “not loved.”

Some are born into a family that does not know how to love. Maybe the parents perpetuated what they had learned and now a young child learns the opposite of love. Fear.

Some have a loving family but encounter “not loved” through school. Kids can be mean. Especially kids who come from homes where they haven’t been loved. And so they pass on what they know and now one who is loved at home experiences the realities of an unloving world.

Gerald Jampolsky writes in his book Love is Letting Go of Fear about the time he took a course called A Course in Miracles. That course  stated there were only two emotions: love and fear. The first is what Jampolsky calls our “natural inheritance.” The second is what our mind manufactures.

Fear is learned. It is what happens when we choose not to trust love. Genesis tells the story of mankind. When Adam and Eve chose to not trust God they chose to distrust love. The minute they moved away from love they came to know fear. They came to know anxiety.

And it’s interesting that fear and anxiety came from their not trusting God. “God is love” is John’s simple description of God. Not “God is hate” or “God is fear-producing.” “God is love.”

But does not the Scriptures teach to “fear” God? Yes, but that fear is a fear of reverence and understanding that he is holy. Which means God is “other.” We are not like him. And the kind of “fear” we are to have is one that respects God for who he is and trusts him in what he says. Especially when he says he loves us.

John continues to write that “perfect love casts out fear.” In other words as we learn what love is—our natural inheritance—fear will dissipate from our lives. We will live more confidently knowing that no matter what happens we are loved.

We were born to be loved.

Jampolsky’s book helped me during a season I was experiencing anxiety and fear. A steady, low undercurrent of anxiety. Fears about my performance. About the future. He gave me a question to start asking myself whenever I was experiencing anxiety and fear:

“What is the worst thing that can happen to me?”

So I started asking that question. And in every case my fear was really a fear of not being loved in some way.

Try asking that question next time you experience fear. Then see if trusting that God is love will help “cast out” that fear.

You were born to be loved. Claim your inheritance today.

Question: What fears do you face today? How can love cast out those fears?


A Rhythm and a Routine will Improve Your Productivity

Make no mistake. I am not the most organized or “set in his ways” type of person. There are some of whom it is said you could set your watch by their daily routines.

Ben Hogan, the famous golfer, is one. In his book Ben Hogan: The Myths Everyone Knows, the Man No One Knew, Tim Scott tells how Hogan was meticulous in his schedule. He would arrive at the Ben Hogan Company at 9:00 a.m. every day. He would leave for lunch at 12:00 noon sharp every day.

He would eat lunch, hit practice balls, shower, go home and have dinner between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. every night. Hogan desired to do everything he did at a high quality and a regular schedule helped him do that.

Others have different routines. You can read about seven successful entrepreneurs here. What you will find is they all do things differently. And yet they are all successful.

But one thing in common to them all is some sort of a routine. Even Tim Ferriss’ flexible routine has some routine to it. He generally keeps Mondays and Fridays off-limits for phone calls from his assistants so he can take a long weekend if he wants. And he generally prioritizes for the week on Mondays. So even a flexible routine has some rhythm to it.

A number of years ago I found a routine that can help you find a rhythm for not only your work week but your life. While reading the Psalms, the prayer book of the Israelites, you may notice that Psalm 4 is an evening prayer and Psalm 5 is a morning prayer. Evening. Then morning.

This pattern follows that of creation: “And there was evening and there was morning…” is the recurring theme of Genesis 1. The evening prayer followed by morning prayer puts us in creation rhythm.

That’s the rhythm.

The routine is this:

  • In the evening “ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” The end of the day is a good time to reflect. Ask yourself how you did that day. Look at areas to celebrate and ones to improve. And then just be silent. Don’t boast. Don’t apologize. In the silence it is just you.
  • In the morning “prepare a sacrifice for you [the Lord] and watch.” The day has dawned and a sacrifice is taking what we have and giving it to God. We think about the day ahead, the things that are planned and the things that might come unexpectedly. We give those to God and then we watch. We see what he might do with them.

Rhythm: Evening. Morning.

Routine: Ponder. Silence. Sacrifice. Watch.

Find that rhythm for your routine and you will find more productivity in your days.

Question: What kind of routine do you follow each day? Week?

How to Respond to Mistakes in the Game of Life

I watched a little league game last night. It started at 8:00 p.m. and ended at 10:23 p.m. Aside from the recognition that it is almost ungodly to ask 11 year-olds to be playing at that time of night, a couple of other lessons surfaced as I sat on a hard, wood bleacher for 2 hours and 23 minutes (not that I was counting the time).

One thing I noticed is that these kids were better than when they played last year. They pitched a little more accurately. They caught the ball more often. They positioned themselves with a little more understanding of how the game is played.

The other thing I noticed is that these kids still had a lot to learn. Although improved from the previous season, they could have ended the game much sooner had their pitching been steadier. There were dropped fly balls and throws. A number of times players did not back up other players when there were potential run downs between bases.

But no one expected these kids to feel beat up about it. What they expected was for them to move on to the next play. The game didn’t stop just because a mistake was made. Was the game altered by the mistake? Yes. And did errors create consequences? For sure. But from my vantage point on the hard, wood bleacher here’s what I saw: a bunch of young boys learning to play the game of baseball.

And you learn to play the game of baseball by playing.

The same is true of life. You learn to play the game of life by playing. And in the playing there will be mistakes. There’s no question that each of us will make mistakes. There is a question as to how each of us will respond when we strike out.

A number of years ago I was feeling as if I were not progressing well in my spiritual development. I was focusing on it more. I was practicing different spiritual disciplines. And yet the more I desired the growth the more I noticed areas I needed to improve.

I found some encouragement in a small book called The Spiritual Guide by Michael Molinos. Molinos was a 7th century mystic whose book was translated into every language in the Western Hemisphere. Eventually his teachings (called Quietism) were condemned and he was jailed.

Although you may not affirm all that you could read in this book, his teachings on our failings were helpful to me. Maybe they will encourage you today too.

  • He reminds us that our “faults” are a result of our fallen nature. We are fallen creatures and therefore we will “fall.” He says we should not be “unduly troubled” by them. In other words, don’t expect to be a Major League player while you’re still in Little League. There’s a lot to learn. And we learn by our mistakes.
  • He reminds us that it is a “miracle of Divine grace that we do not fall every moment into innumerable faults.” That’s a different spin on how to view your sins. I don’t read this as an excuse for sin but rather a different perspective, that without Divine grace we wouldn’t be making the progress we are. And to not forget you are doing some things well.
  • He says if we are going to follow in the way of Jesus we must use the “weapon of confidence…in Divine goodness.” It’s a trust that God’s goodness towards us is greater than our failings towards him.

Have you missed a throw lately? Forgotten to tag the base? Struck out? Then show some compassion on yourself. The game isn’t over. You’ll be up to bat again soon.

Question: How do you handle mistakes you make? How do you treat yourself? What’s your internal dialogue?

Getting Control Over Your Meetings

“I would like to request a meeting with you as soon as possible.”

A statement like that can create all sorts of internal responses. It can make you feel anxious: “I wonder what happened?” It can make you feel special: “Oh, they’ve got a problem and they need me to help fix it.”

And a statement like that can cause you to waste some precious moments in your life. Oftentimes people will want a piece of your schedule but will not tell you what they need or want to visit about. When they do you can wind up in a meeting you did not need to agree to and spend a day or more “wondering” what will present itself to you.

While reading the book Drucker & Me I came across a way to gain a little more control of my schedule. Bob Buford tells his story of how he developed a relationship with Peter Drucker, the “Father of Modern Management.” Buford had requested a time with Drucker to get his advice on running his family’s private business.

Drucker agreed to a meeting but required that Buford write him a letter first detailing what was on his mind. That letter would serve as their agenda when they met.

It also did two other things:

  • It helped Buford clarify his thoughts about what he wanted most to gain from the meeting.
  • It gave Drucker the opportunity to think about the meeting in concrete ways before it happened.

You don’t have to require a letter before a meeting but think about how you will be able to better approach your meetings with people who want to just “drop in” if you know what they have on their mind ahead of time. It is perfectly all right for you to ask them what they want or what the topic is they would like to discuss.

Jesus would ask people, “What are you seeking?”  and “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked the question for the sake of those following him more than he did for himself. As they got clear about what they wanted and could state it he was clear to them in his responses.

There may be times you deny a request for your time. If a priority is already on your schedule and you sense that someone has something they want that does not fit what you can offer, you may have to be honest and tell them that a meeting would not benefit either of you. And you may be able to point them to someone who can be of more help to them.

The next time someone requests some of your time be sure to ask them politely what it is they want help with or to talk about. Gently push them until they give you an answer.

And the next time you need someone else’s time be sure to let them know in a clear sentence what it is you are seeking in having the meeting.

You will save yourself and the other person some precious time. And you will find your day more productive.

Question: How do you handle meeting requests?

Three Ingredients to Baking a Flavorful Marriage

No one would ever mistake me for a Master Chef. My wife Karen, on the other hand, can mix whatever food is available into a tasty dish like Michelangelo could throw paint on the Sistine Chapel and leave behind something to talk about for centuries.

Imagine my anxiety when in our first year of marriage Karen was working part time until eight o’clock at night and the cooking duty fell to me. I knew how to put a microwaveable dinner in the microwave, set the time, and sometimes not burn it. Now she would leave me a cookbook open to a page and say, “Let’s have this tonight.”

One night I was following the instructions and came to this step: “Baste the chicken every fifteen minutes.” This was before the internet and Google so I had to humble myself and call Karen to ask her what it meant to “baste” something. She paused. She giggled. Then she giggled some more. When she regained her composure she explained to me what to do.

Sometimes we need a little help with recipes.

And sometimes we need a little help with the recipe for love. We did. When children came along we realized quickly that all those moments we could spend with each other without interruption before children were over.

Somehow we hit upon a formula that seemed to work for us. Every two weeks we had a date night. We had good friends with whom we’d swap off baby-sitting. When we had our friends’ kids they’d go out. (Side benefit to us is that our kids played the whole time and we could just monitor them.) Then the next week they’d watch our kids and we would go out.

It seemed to work great for us. We reserved some special time for us and through the years were able to model for our boys that even though we loved them we loved each other first.

I was reminded of those days when I came across an article this week that may be of help to you. The advice it gave was this:

  • Every 2 weeks go out on a date.
  • Every 2 months go out for the weekend.
  • Every 2 years go out for a week.

That’s good advice. It’s a good recipe for keeping the flavor in your marriage. And just like any recipe you can tweak it and add your own touches.

Basting keeps meat moist and adds flavor. Baste your relationship in 2-2-2 juices this year and see if your marriage doesn’t begin to taste better.

Question: When was the last time you and your spouse went out on a date? Plan a date on your calendars now.